it's pesto

Fresh Basil has such a strong, wonderful fragrance.  It fills a room with its aroma and just begs to be put into some amazing dish.

Making a fresh pesto, which can be frozen (by not adding cheese) or stored in the refrigerator with a little layer of olive oil as a preservative (for about one week), brings a rich, wonderful flavor to pasta dishes put also can be a flavor enhancer to main courses.

Since many people find pesto rich or overpowering, I often add about ¼ cup of mascarpone or ricotta cheese to make it sweeter and easier on the palate before I mix into any dish.  You can also substitute half the basil with fresh spinach.

Cooking the garlic (and just the garlic) a little before blending makes the pesto taste better since raw garlic is strong and maybe lingers with you too long.

This is an easy recipe because it just requires blasting everything in a food processor or good blender.  Of course you can make it in the true Italian method by pounding the ingredients in a mortar and pestle.

2 cups basil leaves, remove the stalks and tightly pack, about 4 ounces


3 gloves garlic

½ cup olive oil plus 1 teaspoon

1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese*

½ cup pecorino romano cheese*

4 heaping tablespoons pine nuts

salt to taste

few basil leaves for garnish

Pesto is a raw sauce made famous from its roots in Genoa, Italy (hence the famous dish called pasta genovese).  One of the most memorable pestos I ate was in Genoa, served with a local pasta called trofie, a simple hand rolled fresh pasta that allowed the sauce to perfectly cling to each piece.  Most serious Italian cooks believe pounding the main ingredients in a mortar and pestle is the only way to make it.  The name pesto actually comes from the Italian word, pestare, meaning to pound or no wonder the purists like the more traditional method.  

time.  15 minutes

level.  easy

serves.  6 to 8

1.     On low heat, add 1 teaspoon olive oil to a sauté pan and cook the garlic until translucent.  Set aside.

2.     Grate your cheeses.  Set aside.

3.     Wash the basil leaves and pat dry, or use a salad spinner.

4.     Add the basil leaves to the bowl of a food processor or a mortar and pestle.  Grind or pound the basil leaves until almost smooth.  Blend in the other ingredients, except salt and/or cheese if you plan to freeze.

5.     Mix or pound until you have a nice, smooth paste, it should only take a minute or two in a food processor.

6.     Add salt to taste.

*both of these cheeses are very good quality, and should be bought in whole chunks and then grated.  Parmigiano is from cow’s milk and pecorino from sheep’s milk which gives each cheese its unique flavor.

To finish

If serving with pasta, cook the pasta for 7-8 minutes until al dente. For large groups be sure to undercook pasta, as it will continue to cook a bit in the serving dish.

Before draining the pasta, remove at least one cup (or a mug full) of the pasta water and set aside

Place pesto into a large frying pan, add several tablespoons of pasta water, and if using mascarpone or ricotta, add ½ cup and swirl around.  

Add pasta and toss until well coated, you may want to add more pasta water if sauce needs to be more fluid.

Serve with a sprinkle of extra parmigiano or pecorino cheese and a basil leaf.

Other ideas

One idea::  Place a scoop of pesto on a raw seasoned chicken breast with a slice of mozzarella cheese, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese, cover with foil (try not to get foil on cheese) and bake for 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven.  Set oven to broil and brown the cheese for the last 5 minutes.

Another idea:  Mix two tablespoons into a vegetable soup, beef or turkey meatball meat, or in tomato sauce for a boost of extra flavor.